By Brian Feinblum, Chief Marketing Officer
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York I had never seen corporal punishment take place in school. However, almost half the states in America allow for such practices to take place and some quarter-million kids were paddled last year. MEDIA CONNECT is now working with anti-corporal punishment activist Nadine Block, promoting her new book, Breaking The Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment, to online media.
Though prisons and military bases have banned the punishment of paddling, American schools in 19 states still call for it. Block believes it damages everyone involved and is lobbying for the practice to be banned.
“It may be hard to believe,” says Block, “But school corporal punishment still takes place in almost half of our states. Most people believe it had long been eliminated. However, corporal punishment of children is harmful and we need to help protect our youngest and most fragile victims. Many people believe the punishment is only a swat on the buttocks, leading to no real harm and endured by generations of children who grew up to be fine people. But the practice of hitting kids has led to significant problems.”
Block helped lead a coalition of concerned parents, educators, doctors, and parenting experts to remove corporal punishment from Ohio’s schools in 2009. It was the 30th state to ban the practice. Nineteen states still allow students to be hit in school – and the former teacher and school psychologist believes severe damage is being done to hundreds of thousands of students each year. Her new book is leading the battle charge to abolish what she labels “a barbaric practice.”
Every school day, more than one thousand US children are hit on the buttocks with boards called “paddles,” for breaking school rules. Up to a quarter of a million school children are paddled annually. Paddling leads to physical injuries of children, psychological problems, alienation from school, and lawsuits by angry parents. Nineteen states allow this punishment, a punishment considered inhumane, ineffective, and archaic in most of the world. Over 100 nations ban it. The book explores and refutes arguments for keeping corporal punishment in schools.
“I spent 25 years campaigning against corporal punishment in Ohio public schools and elsewhere,” concludes Block. “I want to shed light on one of the darkest aspects of the American education system. I want to share my experiences and knowledge gained from this campaign, and, perhaps, to inspire others to help end it in all US schools. I want to show how a small group of ordinary citizens, with no money and against tremendous opposition, got corporal punishment banned in that state. We can make it happen in other states with good organizing, hard work, and persistence.”
Block reflects further on the effects of corporal punishment, alternatives, and how parents and citizens can get involved in the follow Q&A:
MEDIA CONNECT: What should parents do instead of physically disciplining their children?
Nadine Block: The first step is having the right attitude and frame of reference. Discipline means “to teach.” If we think of discipline as teaching rather than punishing, we can more effectively address misbehavior. We also need to think of a child’s misbehavior as a mistake and look into ourselves, as adults, about how we want our mistakes dealt with; the Golden Rule. We certainly wouldn’t want people to hit us for our mistakes. Reasoning and talking to children works best. Consequences work as well as time outs. Having children undo harm works including apologizing, doing something nice for the person harmed, or fixing/paying for something broken. For babies and toddlers, removing and distraction work best as reasoning is only established gradually. One of the things parents say works best is “Praise the behavior you want to see.” Children will increase desired behaviors with
MC: What can parents do to protect their children from corporal punishment in school?
NB: Parents should read the school policy on discipline to see if it is permitted. If it is permitted, they should read the conditions for its use, if there are any. Parents should make children aware of the policy and tell them to tell their parents if they are paddled. Sometimes school districts permit parents to opt out of corporal punishment or allow a note from a physician saying a child should not be paddled. They should take advantage of opt-out options. Some parents do not do so because their children have not had behavior infractions in the past. Unfortunately, some parents have learned too late that they should have done so. Even if the policy doesn’t allow an opt out, parents should write a letter saying they do not want their children paddled. They should sign it, date it, keep a copy, and give copies for each teacher and have one put in the child’s school office
folder. My experience is that teachers are less likely to hit children whose parents strongly assert that they do not want this to happen to their children. In order to fully protect their children and others in the district, they should seek from the school board a ban. Chapter 6 tells them how to do that.
MC: Aren’t there times when reasoning alone is ineffective or even counterproductive to managing the behavior of children?
NB: Reasoning is ineffective with babies and many toddlers. They do not have sufficient verbal skills to deal with reasoning. An appropriate way of dealing with these children, especially if it is something dangerous like running in the street or sticking something into an electric socket, is to quickly remove them from the situation. They often respond well to distraction for other behaviors that are unwanted. Most children need to be reasoned with on more than one occasion in order to stop misbehavior completely. How many times do adults need to be told not to smoke, not to drink excessively, or overeat before they change behavior even when they know that it is harmful? Reasoning and talking to children takes time but it works better than hitting them.
MC: What steps can parents and concerned activists take to persuade local school boards to ban corporal punishment?
NB: Parents should gather information on the status of corporal punishment in their districts and elsewhere and seek information on the effects of corporal punishment which is easy to do with help of the Center for Effective Discipline or other online sources. They should put the information in easy digestible written form to communicate the need for a ban to possible supporters and, later, to board members and administrators. If they are unable to convince administrators and board members to call for a ban in board policy, they can present the information to the board at a regularly scheduled meeting and make a formal request for a ban.
MC: Is there a correlation between corporal punishment and the prison population? Is there a connection between corporal punishment and bullying?
NB: Yes. A majority of states with the highest rates of school corporal punishment also have the highest rates of incarceration of their adult population according to a study we did using 2005-06 data. A majority of youth in prison have not only been subjected to corporal punishment but have been physically abused. Corporal punishment does not seem to deter criminal behavior. Some researchers have found that corporal punishment is linked to poor internalization of society’s rules. Children who experience excessive corporal punishment may learn to follow rules only when an enforcer is nearby rather than learning that obeying society rules is good for oneself and others. Several studies have found a correlation between corporal punishment and bullying and it is not a stretch as an analogy to see teachers who paddle students as bullies.